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Democracy summit San Sebastián

Bullfights and citizens’ rights in Basque Country

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Will the citizens of San Sebastián vote on proposal to grant public funds for bullfights? The central government in Madrid has blocked proceedings  

Will the citizens of San Sebastián vote on proposal to grant public funds for bullfights? The central government in Madrid has blocked proceedings  


The city of San Sebastián plays host to this year’s Global Forum on Direct Democracy, but the local authorities have had some teething problems with citizens’ participation. A court decision has blocked a planned vote on the public funds for bullfights.

It is the story of a burgeoning civic movement in San Sebastián – or Donostia in the local Basque language – and how the central government in Madrid has intervened in this autonomous community.

The start was promising enough for the promoters of direct democracy. A group of citizens launched an initiative in October 2015 to demand a vote about the public funding of bullfights – a traditional spectacle in this part of Europe.

But six months later, the process was stopped abruptly by the Supreme Court in the Basque Country. It confirmed an order by the state prosecutor who – acting on behalf of Madrid - denied the local authorities the right to hold such a public ballot.

The local regulations are in violation of the Spanish constitution, the court ruled. Any further attempts to organise the local vote, scheduled for next February, have also been blocked.

Legal experts and politicians disagree over whether the result of such a local ballot would be binding or not. “There seems to be some confusion in Spain about what a referendum can do and what it can’t do,” says Miguel Presno, a professor of constitutional law at the university of Oviedo.

But San Sebastián is not giving up. At the end of October, the city authorities lodged an appeal with the government in Madrid.

To read the original Spanish version of the article, click here.

Local participation and global coexistence

The sixth edition of the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy takes place in Donostia/San Sebastián, (Spain) from November 16-19.

Organisers expect about 200 representatives from more than 30 countries to attend the four-day event in this year’s European Capital of Culture.

The three main themes of the conference are: 1) cities as drivers of local democracy 2) the role of the media in direct democracy 3) The Brexit plebiscite and the challenges for direct democracy.

In a series of workshops and panels, the Global Forum puts the spotlight on practical aspects of direct democracy. and its special democracy platform #DearDemocracy is a media partner of the forum. A team of journalists will report from the event with blogs in several languages as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Local democracy in Spain. Is this Greek to you? Let us know what you think.

Urs Geiser,